Robert McLean

Robert McLean (1974) lives in Featherston, New Zealand. His poetry has appeared in four limited editions: For the Coalition Dead (Kilmog Press, 2009), For Renato Curcio (Gumtree Press, 2010), Goat Songs (Kilmog Press, 2011) and Graveyard by the Sea (Cold Hub Press, 2012). He is currently working on a prospective selection of Dan Davin’s poetry.


Robert McLean

Absolute Power


The Emperor rolls a grape

between forefinger and thumb,

the world in equipoise –

a brief moment of respite

from battery and rape

that fill each day and night,

but which he no longer enjoys –

licence has left him numb.


With legions at his back

and fear governing his house,

he could do anything –

but what’s left for him to do?

The grape gets squashed – the fact

is he must find some new

distinguished vice to bring

him pleasure. Something marvellous.


He quits his sister’s bed,

walks down the corridor

towards the balcony –

his predecessors shine

among the stars, the dead

apotheosised. It’s a sign

– made unequivocally –;

like them, he’ll wage a war.


The world spreads out before him –

his council never fibs

and augury reveals

to him he is a God.

At breakfast, friends ignore him,

which seems to him quite odd.

And suddenly he feels

the knife slide through his ribs.


The Discovery Of Pluto

i.m. Geoffrey Hill


A little girl named it. But first

it had to be discovered.

Attending to the unknown, the thirst

for knowing piqued by its absence,

training telescopes

on where nothing can be seen;

this seeking out, some of us love it

more than others, and have since

before forgetting – our hopes

of going where no one else has been.


Yet no one was looking for it;

a perturbation – a kink –

in Neptune’s serene orbit

hinted at something – the solar

system’s darker reaches,

if thus disturbed, might host

a planet spinning on the brink

of nothingness: a colder

satellite, an orbital Ghost

of knowledge with much to teach us.


Soon enough, evidence backed

up their case –the distant snarl

in space had mass, plying a track

around our underwriting star.

Until then sight-unseen,

the object graced the lenses

presupposing it. And yet, so far, all

they knew was only known so far –

knowledge, in a certain sense, is

always partial, always far from keen.


Some say name precedes identity;

and that identity in turn

dictates the substance of things. If we

can bring ourselves to believe as much,

perhaps those astronomers

who didn’t shy from their unknowing

somehow made the stars burn

brighter. They couldn’t touch

and weigh what they’d seen, but by showing

it was there, we realise what is.


It was a planet. Now it’s not. In

our strictly unblinking cosmos,

thick with dark matter, to be forgotten

is never to have been. For man-

kind, everything’s what we insist it is

for opposable-thumbed self-styled

gods, no matter what it costs us

in the end, our ends no more than

those of some forever curious child,

forever charting further distances.


Writing A Poem


At People’s Coffee on Constable Street

in Newtown, as other people drink and eat,


a young woman, about my daughter’s age,

shuttles from page, to touch-screen, back to page


again, writing in un-metred quatrains

verses about god-only-knows what pains


and pleasures, trawling the online thesaurus

for le mot juste, as if she were a tourist


in some foreign country where synonyms

can be exchanged at a good rate, her trim-


milk latte bowl and half-smoked cigarettes

fuel to publish her desires and regrets,


penned plaints to ennui, social status, and love,

which I suppose myself to be above


(not love, of course, which moves me most, but how

its bought and sold: that’s what I disavow),


this girl who wants – I guess – to grace a page

of whatever kind’s demanded by the age,


damning what piques this critic’s avarice

by making a poem, the work that gathers us


together in this hodgepodge ebb-and-flow,

my partial blessing won – for all I know


(I’m cribbing Wordsworth) whether it ignores or

lauds her works, the world is all before her.